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Civil rights groups unite to oppose law enforcement hacking

California residents are likely aware that several high-profile whistleblowers have come forward to expose massive surveillance programs operated by federal agencies such as the National Security Agency, but they may not know that about a technique being used by government agents known as law enforcement hacking. The Fourth Amendment protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures, and civil rights advocates claim that law enforcement hacking violates these rights by allowing federal agents to monitor the online activities of thousands of U.S. citizens after obtaining just one search warrant.

A 2016 example of law enforcement hacking involved a website suspected of hosting and distributing child pornography. Federal agents seized the website, but, rather than shutting it down, they chose to keep it running. They then obtained a search warrant that allowed them to install malware on the computers of internet users who accessed the site. This government malware was subsequently used to track the online activities of about 9,000 people in more than 100 countries.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has long been critical of government surveillance in the information age, and the group released a report on March 30 that provides defense attorneys with strategies that can be used to identify signs of law enforcement hacking along with procedural and constitutional arguments that attorneys can use to combat it. The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers worked with the EFF to create the report.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys may take steps to stay informed about possibly unconstitutional law enforcement investigation techniques. Attorneys may suspect electronic surveillance in situations where internet activity or digital communication has provided prosecutors with crucial evidence, and they could seek to have this evidence suppressed when rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution appear to have been violated.

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